The Footballing Expressionism of Adil Aouchiche
by Joe Donnohue
Claude Monet once suggested he owed flowers for having become a painter. In the same way, every great footballer perhaps owes the ball and the spectator for the adulation that accompanies their profession.
Art is football and football is art. The sport is physical artistic expression akin to that of a dancer or gymnast. Much as a painter’s genius is manifested by their brush, so too are footballers aided by their instrument.
The brush strokes and finer points of a footballer’s dexterous repertoire define the player they become. There are the brutalists, notable for their structured and aggressive approach. There are the minimalists, famed for their simplicity and uncomplicated nature, often deep-lying distributors keeping things ticking over in the centre of the park. Then there are the expressionists, unburdened by the whims of tactical setups, free spirits roaming the pitch with the ball as their muse.
By those loosely defined parameters – which admittedly ignore swathes of other artistic styles – Adil Aouchiche is an arrangement of the three. By combining the structural discipline required of a midfielder with the flair, creativity and whimsy of a nimble attacker, a rousing but responsible player has evolved.
ADIL AOUCHICHE, SUNRISE
At 17 years-old and with one senior appearance for Paris Saint-Germain to his name – making him the youngest Ligue 1 debutant in the club’s history – Aouchiche is yet to take on his stylistic final form.
But the boy from Le Blanc-Mesnil – a north-eastern suburb of the Île-de-France region – still made headlines in the spring with France’s under-17 side. Nine goals in five games at the UEFA Under-17 European Championships for someone typically starting in a midfield role was impressive. Consequently, Aouchiche shares the honour of having scored the most goals in a UEFA men’s football final tournament with one Michel Platini and his Euro 1984 haul.
To those frequenting the Camp des Loges training complex of Paris Saint-Germain, only the sheer volume of goals Aouchiche scored will have come as a surprise. With Thiago Motta’s high-pressing under-19 side, Aouchiche played predominantly as an eight, wearing the same number.
The tactical role he took on was much more complex, fulfilling his duty to press opponents high up the pitch alongside the main striker and two wingers, creating an initial four-man line for the opposition to break.
However, it’s Aouchiche’s usage of space off the ball that makes him truly noteworthy. He is a simple player, a proponent of the pass-and-move philosophy. His passes are executed crisply and sharply. He never dawdles on the ball, spinning away after a pass to find the space to receive once again. Aouchiche is a player who demands the ball, scans his surroundings and releases; simple, but a style efficient at keeping a move flowing.
The value of an artist’s work is determined by what they do with the materials given to them. Aouchiche is craftily efficient with his.
Aside from the goals, assists and mean set-piece technique, it is Aouchiche’s seemingly innate ability to seek out space that stands him apart. As a number eight, he is a facilitator, as well as a creator. He is tasked with recycling possession and unlocking defences. His willingness to consistently support attacks in the name of the collective effort should not be undervalued; he is always an option.
Jean-Luc Giuntini – France’s under-17 coach – outlines his value as a “leader both on and off the field,” saying “he combines technicality with high-intensity activity.”
It’s true that Aouchiche’s technical skill sets him apart from many players his age, making him even more striking to watch, alongside his superior intelligence. He avoids being dragged towards the ball, which invariably at under-17 and under-19 level means he inhabits the space vacated by other ball-centric players.
Ergo, it comes as little surprise that the French-Algerian teenager was involved with Thomas Tuchel’s senior side during pre-season. Admittedly, his first-team debut came about due to injuries to first-team regulars, but nevertheless was richly deserved.
His composure and balance in the final third could allow him to be utilised as a number ten more often. At the under-17 European Championships, several of his goals came from tight areas where he was required to find a quick solution. Whether that be feinting one way to buy himself a yard or a burst of acceleration, he found a way time and time again.
On occasion, when facing up to a defender, it seemed he exploited his opponent by feigning a move to the side in which their weight was concentrated on their back foot, before scooping the ball in the opposite direction. Laudable quick-thinking.
Final third movement is crucial when exploiting a defence that are content to sit deep in a low block. With a dominant PSG side facing many inferior Ligue 1 teams, Aouchiche could be a useful, auxiliary pawn from Tuchel’s bench.
At the Under-17 European Championships he displayed assured, solid and already refined finishing technique. His shooting choices seem well-informed and came from good positions: more examples of sensible and responsible decision-making.
BOY WITH A VELVET TOUCH
It is the dawning of spring in Adil Aouchiche’s career. The road to regular first-team football - at any level, never mind at one of Europe’s super-clubs - is one beset with trials and tribulations. But something about Aouchiche coaxes the imagination: he tantalises and allures in his movement, distribution and finishing. He plays in a way that suggests such trials and tribulations are within his capacity to overcome.
A debut in Paris Saint-Germain’s dominant side was not borne out of tokenistic, end-of-season sentiment, but as a recognition of his hard work. Aouchiche promises plenty and from the (admittedly small) sample size of youth international games and UEFA Youth League appearances we’ve so far been privy to. He appears an intelligent, elegant footballer; an artist, perhaps.
His career is in its infancy and to make wide-ranging, generalised predictions for a player who continues to develop would be foolish. To emboss his talent and influence onto the pitch and become a permanent fixture of top-flight football, he must continue to dazzle in his periodic opportunities. His palette is full but the canvas lies bare. For now.
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